Up until July of 2012, International Free Agency has been a free-for-all. In the 2010-11 period, the Mariners spent $6.47 million. Four teams spent $5 million or more. Five teams spent less than a million dollars. The Twins, middle-of-the-pack spenders, spent $2.54 million.
The following spending period (July 2011 - June 2012) was the final opportunity for teams, under the old guidelines, to spend however they wanted. The Rangers spent a ridiculous $12.83 million. The Blue Jays spent $7.57 million. Two more teams (that typically spend more than the Twins), the Royals and Mariners both spent over $6 million. Only three teams spent less than a million dollars (the Dodgers, White Sox, Orioles and Nationals are teams that have limited their International budget recently), while the Twins stayed middle-of-the-pack again, spending $2.31 million.
Sano undergoing DNA testing in July of 2009
in an effort to prove his age and identity.
The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia
Finding accurate data going back much further is difficult, but it should be pointed out that Miguel Sano signed with the Twins for $3.15 million in September of 2009. That is clearly the exception and not the rule. It would be safe to say their budget is normally in the $2.5 million range; and while they won't "spend just to spend", they will open their pocketbooks for players they feel are worth it.
So what's the big deal? Well, starting in the July 2012 - June 2013 period, all teams had $2.9 million to spend. It wasn't a "hard cap" per se, but there were penalties if you exceeded that amount. (The Rays, for example, exceeded their cap by so much they won't be able to sign anyone for over $250,000 in the 2013-14 signing class.) Final amounts won't be in until June, but Terry Ryan said in a radio interview earlier this winter that he "suspected" the Twins would use most, if not the entire amount.
Let's fast-forward to July of this year. First off, let's hope there is no more snow on the ground. Secondly, let's talk about the changes that have happened (again) in regard to International spending. Ben Badler of Baseball America does a great job in a series of posts explaining exactly how it will all work. Matt Garrioch at minorleagueball.com examined the fairness of the "new spending pools". All are excellent reads if you're into it.
Instead of giving you the overview on all of baseball, I'm going to break it down for you from the Twins perspective because, well, that's why you're here.
As baseball pushes towards an International Draft, you'll see similarities between the International spending period and the Rule 4 draft. For starters, there are penalties for exceeding your pool. And starting this year, the worst teams are allowed the largest pools. The Twins have the 4th pick in the Rule 4 draft; they also are being afforded the fourth-largest spending pool in International Free Agency: $3,908,600. (This is done in an effort to steer the most sought-after amateurs to the teams with the most money - the worst teams.)
Now, I referenced the Twins as not being a "spend-it-just-to-spend-it" team and also referred to their penchant to typically spend somewhere around $2.5 million. So what good does it do them to have nearly four million dollars?
I'm glad you want to know, because here's the newest (and, for the Twins, probably most beneficial) wrinkle for signing International youngsters: the ability to trade portions of your signing pool.
The Twins will enter July with five slots:
#4 - $2,250,700
#34 - $450,400
#64 - $304,200
#94 - $203,300
Flat pool - $700,000
All teams have a standard 700K pool that they cannot trade, in addition to their four slots. Teams are limited to only adding 50% of their cap. So if the Twins were interested, they could add an additional $2 million to their signing pool through trades.
A more likely scenario could see the Twins dealing some of their pool away. Badler suggests in this piece that the Twins could trade all but slot #4 and still have $3 million to spend.
Here are a of couple scenarios that might give you an idea of how this could benefit the Twins:
The Rangers currently have a pool just short of $2 million. They could add up to half of that to have a pool of $2.9 million (their limit this year, which they found a way to circumvent anyway).
The Blue Jays, who have spent nearly $12 million over the last two years, have only $2.8 million to spend, but could get their pool up to $4.2 million through trades.
If it's July and the Twins aren't in contention and the Rangers or Blue Jays come sniffing around Justin Morneau or Josh Willingham, this could give the Twins a chance to turn part of their pool (and money they probably wouldn't spend anyway) into a prospect. Or maybe it turns a prospect into a better prospect. Pretty good shake for the Twins, if you ask me.
Obviously, July 2 is a long way off, but when the time comes, the Twins are going to have money to spend. The name that is already connected to the Twins is OF Micker Zapata. Zapata is a big (6-3, 225) outfielder currently training in the Dominican Republic. Zapata, however, is a very rare commodity in the International class: He was born in St. Thomas, grew up speaking English and will have that advantage as he tries to adjust to affiliated baseball (and probably play in the GCL at 17). The Twins place an emphasis on learning the language. They also, recently, have placed an emphasis on right-handed power. Zapata fits this bill perfectly. Zapata might be in line for a bonus in the $1.5-$1.75 range and the Twins are going to be one of the few teams in baseball with the cash to meet those demands.
Despite early reports suggesting this international class isn't going to be a great one, it can only benefit the Twins to have assets available when assets are limited.